• MGFamiliesUnite

Update on NAACP Miami-Dade Black Lives Matter Demands

Updated: Aug 31, 2020

A protest without demands is fruitless. Miami Gardens Families Unite wanted to know how our local NAACP branch felt about progress, or lack thereof, following their June 1st release of a list of demands in solidarity with Black Lives Matter protestors.

“Say Their Names” is a public memorial work of art created by Miami-based artist and activist Chire Regans (VantaBlack) that serves as a direct call to the public to honor those lost to police brutality, gun violence, hate crimes, and domestic violence.

We spoke to Ruben Roberts, President of the Miami-Dade Branch of the NAACP, concerning local police reforms enacted in the wake of the George Floyd and Breonna Taylor murders. We learned of telling concessions made on both sides of the negotiating table, and what needs to happen next to ensure Miami-Dade County walks a progressive path towards the advancement of its colored people. In truth, any community’s advancement will always depend on a collective recalibration of civic engagement. Watching this unfold, from landmark protest participation numbers, to record high voter registrations, forces critical demands to be met in a timely fashion.

Demand: Arrest all four of the officers involved in the murder of George Floyd.

“The four officers were arrested, fired and charged on June 4, 2020,” remembers Ruban Roberts. Prosecutors in the case say they plan to seek stiff sentences if the men are convicted. 

Demand: Enact civilian oversight panels with subpoena powers for all municipalities in Miami-Dade County.

“We were contacted by [Vice Mayor] Alex Desulme from North Miami who wanted to support the establishment of a citizen investigative board,” reveals Roberts. “It went before commission [July 14, 2020] and it passed.”

In an interview with the Miami Herald, Desulme explains the board is an impartial option, as opposed to police internal affairs investigating allegations against its own officers. The ordinance states the board has subpoena power over witnesses, documents, and other potential evidence, but it will be unable to subpoena police officers—something Desulme would like to see changed.

The vote split along racial lines, with both white council members voting against the ordinance.

Desulme told the Herald the board should be implemented by Oct. 1.

“We have worked with the ACLU and other organizations to bring the issue to Miami-Dade BCC,” says Roberts.

Miami-Dade County officials will vote on Monday, August 31st, on a plan to revive its independent civilian panel (ICP) that will investigate allegations of police brutality, misconduct and discrimination. County residents can speak during a public hearing, and commissioners will give the measure a final vote. The panel was eliminated during the 2009 Great Recession and proposals to reinstate it in 2016 and 2018 failed.

Although commissioners last month voted 8-5 to re-establish the panel, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giménez again exercised his veto power as he did two years ago. Gimenez has expressed strong concerns about giving the panel subpoena power.

“It’s really a non-issue,” emphasizes Roberts. State law bars civilian panels from issuing subpoenas to police officers, but the Miami-Dade panel could demand records and testimony from others involved in arrests and civilian confrontations. “It will be the third time in the space of three years that we have been working on this… there are glimpses of progress, but it is still a struggle.”

Anyone looking to speak during the meeting can register in advance or call in live at 305-375-5777. The meeting starts at 9:30 a.m., and pre-registration for live comments closes at 10 a.m. Meetings are livestreamed on the county website and the Board of County Commissioners' Facebook page.

Demand: Repeal the police bill of rights.

“We have been speaking with current elected officials and recently elected officials to revamp the police bill of rights which has certain protections,” describes Roberts.

“You can’t even question an officer,” Roberts points out regarding the Police Bill of Rights. “If I’m a civilian and I shoot someone, I get questions. But according to [Section 112 in the Police Bill of Rights], you have to wait for the entire investigation to be done before you can question an officer. When you question them, you have to give them all the evidence you have first, before [an interrogation]…that means they can shape their response based on evidence to help their case…they can exploit a loophole and prove themselves innocent.

“An attorney must be present and union representation present. How can you convict an officer with all that protection? This is what binds prosecutors all across the state.

“These officers, when they do the violent activities and are immediately suspended and subsequently fired in a brief period of time, (like what happened to the police in George Floyds case), this could not happen in Miami. You cannot fire an officer on the spot in Miami-Dade County because they are protected.”

The Police Bill of Rights offering protections for police officers in the State of Florida, and most union contracts in Miami-Dade, stipulate that departments may “relieve officers of duty,” with or without pay. It does not mean their term of service is ended, however. Subsequent punitive actions may, or may not, involve demotions or transfers…

Demand: Institution of policy to disqualify any police candidate that has been fired from previous municipalities with a history of use of excessive force.

“We are fighting from a policy perspective and making sure that we call officers [guilty of misconduct] out by creating a database,” details Roberts. “We spoke to legislators to do that so we have a record and can track them and hopefully take their law license so that they are not able to transfer from one department to the next. Once there is a history that follows them, anyone who is hiring will know this record and history.

“What is supposed to happen when an officer is charged or relived of duty, is that info goes to the FDLE (Florida Department of Law Enforcement) so they can review and see if this officer should be able to maintain his law license, or have it taken away so he can’t serve anywhere. [City of Miami police officer] Javier Ortiz has a list of complaints…he was promoted after all those complaints. [Recently] he has been relieved of duty. Check with them he may be still getting paid.”

Javier Ortiz, arguably Miami's most controversial cop, was suspended with pay in January. According to the Miami Civilian Investigative Panel (CIP) as reported to the New Times, Ortiz has amassed 43 complaints, one driving charge, and 18 use-of-force incidents since he began working for MPD in 2004.

“You may have an officer that may not be a perpetrator of misconduct, but doesn’t say a word when he witnesses an incident. Their silence gives consent for officers to do it again, as does the system that protects the officers when they do those things,” emphasizes Roberts.

Another local victory in the fight against excessive force occurred in June, when Miami-Dade police director Freddy Ramirez banned officer’s use of the chokehold restraint. Prior to his action, the largest law enforcement agency in the Southeastern United States was allowing chokeholds to be used despite most other Miami-Dade municipalities that had previously forbidden the practice.

Demand: Provide equitable social, economic, educational, housing, and health care justice

“Dollars are being misspent with policing. Government gives you a sense of fear that we are living in a lawless state, and we need more policing. However, if we spend more on the front end and provide economic opportunities for low income folks and impoverished neighborhoods…if we provide resources where you have slum and blighted areas…when you see those communities building up, where they are given grants for small businesses to develop and grow, you will see overall this will have a direct impact on crime and violence,” explains Roberts.

“How we spend tax payer dollars disproportionately effects communities and the way police are doing their jobs. Police Unions fight for money to come to the police departments. Police and corrections are the two largest budget numbers in most municipalities, ranging from 40% to in some cases 65%. When you look at the idea of defunding police, I prefer to use the term reallocation of funds. I do believe there are resources going to the police department that can be spread out in other areas like mental health. There are professionals who can handle those encounters better than police can, and funding should go to organizations who provide those services. Perhaps you have an officer standing by who his trained in oversight, or [to assist] if things escalate.

"We do need police who are effectively doing their job and who are treating people the same across the board in a positive way, however resources can be allocated more appropriately.

“People need to get civically involved. Government can’t survive without taxes. All of us contribute to the tax base…this isn’t the government’s money, this is your money! You paid into it. [The U.S.] chose to give the lion share [of Covid related economic relief funds] to big businesses when they should have given the lion share to people who paid into it. Companies like Amazon benefit from governmental subsidies and they didn’t pay any taxes."

The NAACP encourages the black community to galvanize around these issues and speak their minds at the polls.

“Understand the laws on the books, how they effect us, who are we voting for, who may have been involved with activities counter-productive to our community. Make a change by voting for those with our best interest at heart.

"Although our demands are moving along, we need to have a national agenda compiled that addresses the needs of the black community. I encourage civic groups on the national level to come together and draft such an agenda,” urges Roberts.

“None of these changes mean anything if there is not a sustainability route to it. You’ll end up with reforms on a temporary basis. Any newly elected officials can come in and undo everything that we have accomplished.

“In order for us to make change sustainable, we all have to be engaged, we need all hands on deck. Know the issues. Register to vote. Mobilize. Returning citizens need to register. Contact the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition for assistance paying restitution fees. We need political candidates who know the issues concerning our community. What we need to focus on now is making sure we have a pipeline of folks that we can start feeding into political office."

Roberts asserts that how we work together as a community will ultimately determine the fate of our community.

“We are not the target. Stop targeting each other and focus on the people that you need to remove and replace. We do ourselves a disservice when we are distracted and turn our ire on each other. In most cases, we as black people want the same things, we just have different routes of transmission. So let's keep our eyes focused on what our target is. The colonizers know that we are so easily distracted and they work towards helping us stay distracted.”

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